Jan 9, 2020

The Struggle to Find God's Will

3 Min Read

Here’s an excerpt from The Struggle to Find God’s Will, Thomas Brewer's contribution to the January issue of Tabletalk:

“What does God want me to do?” Have you ever asked yourself that question? I know I have. I’ve wondered, Does God want me to live here? Does God want me to marry this person? Does God want me to take this job? What does God want me to do? These questions can be agonizing to answer, because they are so significant. We want as much certainty as possible in regard to answering significant questions. Why? Because when we lack certainty, we often feel scared. Not knowing what we should do next makes us feel as if we could make a mistake. It makes us anxious. In fact, though we may not admit it, sometimes we’re even afraid that we could miss God’s will.

The struggle to find God’s will is a struggle with certainty. We naturally seek as much certainty as possible in regard to decisions. Certainty helps us feel more in control, and when we feel in control, we feel safe.


Seeking more certainty in regard to decisions isn’t wrong. It’s good for us to consider the consequences of decisions, to seek out wise counsel, and to prayerfully consider what to do. Sometimes, however, uncertainty can cause our hearts to have the wrong motivations in seeking God’s will. That is, as Christians, we’re called to trust God for His control, but our desire to know God’s will can actually come from a deeper desire to have more control for ourselves. We want God to tell us exactly what to do so that no faith is required. That would put our hearts at ease, wouldn’t it? It’s thus strange how a presumably good desire (wanting to know God’s will) can sometimes be twisted into a bad one (wanting more control for ourselves). It reminds me of the Pharisees. They thought they were scrupulously doing God’s will by tithing their mint and cumin in exacting quantities (Luke 11:42). Jesus said they strained out a gnat to swallow a camel (Matt. 23:24). That is, they sought to control the absolute smallest details but missed faith in God. Jesus called them whitewashed tombs (v. 27). They looked nice on the outside, but inside they were dead. Their hearts didn’t trust God, though they were presumably seeking to do God’s will.

The story of the Pharisees is a cautionary tale for Christians. We need to be careful that ostensibly good desires aren’t proceeding from sinful motivations. This is a difficult thing to do, and it requires much heart searching. Were the Pharisees wrong to desire certainty about some things? No, they were not. We are certain, of course, about what God wants us to do in some regards. For example, we know that He has said, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts” (Col. 3:12). We know that He has said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12), and, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4). These are examples of God’s will. He has said other, even more specific things. For example, He has called us, if we marry, to marry only another Christian—not a non-Christian (1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14). He has also called us to work (Col. 3:23; 1 Tim. 5:8).

These passages and others tell us God’s will. But we’re actually looking for something more specific, right? We’re often not so worried about His moral will, that is, His commandments (theologians often call this God’s preceptive will). We’re wondering, specifically, what to do next among an array of morally good options. God’s moral will can give us more certainty in regard to some options, but it doesn’t narrow it down to a specific choice. When we talk about specific choices that God hasn’t revealed, we are talking about His secret will—that will that God has chosen not to reveal to us. God’s secret, or hidden, will is mysterious. It involves everything He has not told us regarding exact decisions (What would God choose if He were me?), about the future (Will I marry this person?), and pretty much everything else that God keeps to Himself (Why was I born now rather than a century ago?).

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